New Mexico: El Morro to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

This was my last day in New Mexico. I hate last days. It was also Thanksgiving.

We woke at are usual time, around 6 am. The dogs' stomachs are good alarm clocks. The thermostat said it was 21 degrees Fahrenheit outside. It was still dark outside. But I finally got to watch a phenomenon that Traveler Thirteen had pointed out to me and we'd discussed at length: the temperature drops several degrees just after the sun comes up. I have never in my life noticed this. But its true, especially in the high desert. Just as the sun came up the outside temperature dropped to 18 degrees. It quickly started going up again. If you want the explanation why read this Ask a Scientist article about it.

The El Morro RV Park lies at the base of San Lorenzo Mesa. Traveler Thirteen, Chena and I climbed to the top of the mesa. Chena ran and leaped about. She does this really funny post-poop celebration run/dance. It's really kind of hilarious. By this time I'd been fully accepted into her herd and was able to play with her a bit. I was honored to be able to throw a stick for her a couple of times.

500 year old Alligator Juniper.

The top of the mesa affords amazing views of the surrounding area, including El Morro National Monument and the Zuni Mountains. At the top of the mesa you can also find a 500 year old Alligator Juniper.  And again, we stood, staring out into a completely different ecosystem than we'd been in a day earlier.

View from the top of San Lorenzo Mesa.

When we got back to the RV park, Traveler Thirteen made a spectacular breakfast of scrambled eggs with chorizo hash and pan toasted bread. I wandered around the RV park. The owner's chickens where out and wandering too. There were herds of them roving the park. Western scrub jays and ravens were helping themselves to chicken feed near the chicken coop. One raven flew right over my head, its wings making loud wump, wump, wump sounds.

One of El Morro RV Park's chickens.

We packed up and were soon back on the road heading toward Albuquerque. As we drove east mountains rose around us in a ring, creating a cone within which ancient lava flows cut across the plain, their black fragments braiding the land around us in long strings of geological time.

Soon we were back in Albuquerque at the KOA campground where we'd started out a week before, ending where we began. We dropped the trailer off there and then I took over driving. We were headed south to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. For a birder like me, this place is like winning the lottery, inheriting Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and getting a letter from Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I knew the refuge was supposed to be amazing, especially during the winter migration, but the word stunning doesn't even come close to describing the beauty of this place.

Lines of snow geese in flight.

Closer up shot of snow geese in flight.

As we drove into the Refuge, thousands of snow geese alighted into the air in their thousands. It was quite an introduction to the place. At the time, there were over 10,000 sandhill cranes, more than 40,000 light geese (snow geese and Ross's geese), and thousands of different kinds of ducks including American Coots, American Shovelers, Mallards, Pintails, and Western Grebes, either taking up residence for the winter or moving through the area on their annual migration. There were hawks, falcons, and mule deer as well, not to mention all the smaller song birds. In the late afternoon light the grass glowed gold and the birds put on the most amazing show. I could have taken out a lounge chair and sat there all day just watching as murmurations of black birds swirled around long flights of cranes and geese.

Looking across the many waterways through the refuge.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Mule Deer

Field full of Sand Hill Cranes.

The sun setting the grass and trees aglow.

Perfect afternoon light.

A field filled with snow geese, Sand Hill cranes, and some type of black bird. Notice the right side of the photo. Keep your eye on it. It's an explosion of black birds!

I was entranced by the birds exploding into the air and then flying apart and coming back together in ever changing formations. 

And then, not to be outdone, the sunset threw the Earth's glowing blue shadow across the eastern skyline as a final curtain on the day's show.

The Earth's shadow and its reflection.

I am in love with Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, we had to leave.

Then it was back to the Albuquerque KOA to pack up, with a quick detour first to Del Taco for Thanksgiving Dinner (it was one of the few places open). It's a new tradition for me. I'm having burritos every Thanksgiving from now on. To hell with turkey.

And then I had to leave. Traveler Thirteen dropped me off at the airport. I was on the last flight out for the night. It was the emptiest airport I've ever seen. I expected tumbleweeds to blow through the waiting area as I waited to board my flight back to Boston.

Ah...the desert still calls me. I shall go back. There's so much more to see.